First Day of 2016

Originally published on 7th January 2016 on Blogger

So after a very late night, 2am, I think, we got up early enough to have our final traditional Japanese breakfast. We came downstairs to find a hive of activity. Mochi being made in the traditional way, with a large wooden mallet, called a kine, in a large wooden mortar, called an usu. Many neighbours, guests and the Mayor and his wife had come to join the mochi making.

We joined in the mochi making, much more labour intensive than with a machine, that does the pounding for you. The kine is very heavy and you need to move fairly quickly, while the rice is warm. You also need to continually wet and turn the mochi. It is quite a vigorous process, and has been a New Year tradition in Japan for a very long time. The Japanese have been making mochi like this for more than a thousand years. It is such an accessible and touchable history. Japan’s history is intertwined in their everyday life, in so many ways. It is common to see women, young and old in kimono and geta (wooden sandals) and men in traditional haori and hakama. Just going to work or to the market, or lunch. The flow of the everyday is smattered with so much tradition. The architecture, the food and, of course, the etiquette. I guess for an Australian, the concept of a market that has run every month for more than 1000 years, or a shop that has been trading since 1615, is hard to get your head around. I think this is one of my favourite things about Japan. Despite being such a technologically advanced society, and it really is Blade Runner advanced, robots and AI, and neon and everything automated. This exists side by side with such rich tradition, seamlessly. Nothing appears out of place or out of context. It’s fascinating.

I have, as usual, gone off on a tangent.

After breakfast and mochi making, Maki approached me with two small envelopes. I knew what they were, and felt very humbled. Otoshidama is the tradition of giving your children, children of your relatives, and sometimes close friend’s children money on New Year’s Day. This tradition began in the Edo period, around 400 years ago. The otoshidama were for Finn and Mya, from Maki’s beautiful mum. I was speechless and teary. It was such a lovely gesture that my kids got to join in a uniquely Japanese tradition. So very kind and thoughtful.

With this new found wealth, Lancy, Chelsea and Mya wanted to go shopping. Finn was tired and wanted a day off. So, the girls and I headed out on the bus, for Yodobashi Camera. We stopped for a crazy chocolate, choc chip, crunchy, creamy, brownie frappacino (well, I had coffee) at Starbucks. And then proceeded to lose hours in the toy department and the electronics department. Everyone found something they wanted. We then headed to Uniqlo. All the shops were crazy busy. They all have big sales on New Year’s Day to encourage kids to come spend their Otoshidama.

We headed home to have some dinner. Mya joined the girl’s, Finn had already eaten, so I had kombini oyakudon and beautiful salad for dinner. Maki thought I was out, but I was upstairs, when the Mayor dropped in again. He wanted to drink sake, but was very busy, so he left an amazing scroll, with interchangeable paintings, from the Tales of Genji. Attributed to be the first novel ever written in the world, written by a Japanese courtesan women, it is the book I am currently reading. Spooky. I’m not sure why he wanted to give me the scroll, but I was very touched by his kindness.

After dinner, a number of guests were drinking sake in the living area. We joined them. A couple from Seattle, and her brother and a young Dutch guy. The guy from Seattle was a gamer. Finn really liked him, and spent a lot of time nerding out with him. It was really great to talk to people about their home countries and I had a great night, except for the impending doom of our departure, early the next morning. Shinkansen were packed, and the only one we could get on was early in the morning.

I went to bed with a sadness in my heart of leaving Kyoto. It is such an amazing city. I know I will return, again and again.

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